If you missed the first two installments in this series, you can catch up here:
Now that I’ve made it through the first two films in the Alien franchise, it’s time for Alien³, which carries the distinction of having the lowest rating of the series on Rotten Tomatoes. Oh, joy.
I should mention that I’m actually going into these movies blinder than I typically would, despite most of them being decades old, because I’m not looking up the old trailers, not reading reviews, and not even reading the short little HBO summary until I’m ready to press play. I’ll check the director on IMDb, glance at the RT rating, and that’s about it. It’s honestly kind of shocking how little I know about the Alien movies.
Going into this one, the only thing I know for sure is that Sigourney shaves her head, and that at some point the alien is going to breathe on the side of her face, because I remember that from the TV promos when I was a kid.
This movie was directed by David Fincher, which would normally make me think it’s going to go super dark and creepy and explore the deepest shadows of human nature… except that this was his first feature film. Before Alien³, Fincher directed music videos. I’m not entirely sure how he went from directing Madonna and Paula Abdul videos (and the super cheesy The Princess Bride music video) to an Alien movie, but I do know that he was an 11th hour pick, after the original director was removed for creative differences.
So I’m unsure if he’s going to be at his most Fincher-y here, or if he’ll still have some residual rock-‘n-roll instincts from the music video world… and I don’t even know what that would translate to in a sci-fi movie. Smoke machines? Choreographed dance moves? Wait — am I finally going to get my singing, dancing alien baby???
Okay, probably not.
In all seriousness, I’m anticipating Fincher will lean further into the human element of the story than previous installments have, so probably some deeper exploration of The Company and their motives. He tends to be super interested in stories about the monstrous side of humanity, which will be fascinating in a movie where he can juxtapose his human villains with actual monsters (and I do expect human villains to take more of a central role in this one than they have in the past two). Assuming Fincher had already embraced some of his directorial trademarks by this point, I’m expecting a high creep factor, intense psychological manipulation, and possibly some probing of the boundaries of the characters’ perceptions of reality.
I’m also leaning toward Ripley dying in this one. I don’t know if they knew they were getting a 4th movie when they made this one, and this feels like a franchise where she might die at the end of the trilogy. (Especially if it has a grown-up version of the kid from Aliens, which I don’t think it does, but if the kid is a major player, Ripley is almost definitely toast.)
I’m still torn on whether they’re going to eventually do the “the Queen is controlling all the xenomorphs, and to defeat her is to defeat them all” thing, but I kind of doubt Fincher would be the one to fully go there, because it seems like too neat an ending for him. He tends to like his morality ambiguous and his endings open to interpretation, so I’m actually leaning toward a messy ending where the humans technically win, but suffer some sort of major loss in order to get there.
Then again, maybe they’ll all just break into song.
Watching the movie:
- Ooooooh I like the 20th Century Fox theme just… dropping into dissonance at the end there. Very effective.
- Oh crap, the xenomorphs are ON THE ESCAPE POD from Aliens??? Dang, there goes the neighborhood, I guess. So that means everyone from the second movie is dead, and Ripley is the only survivor… again? So much for my “maybe the kid is grown up in this one” theory.
- Also kudos to Sigourney Weaver for aging so little over 13 years that they could keep doing the “this movie picks up exactly where the last one leaves off” thing.
- Aaaaand we have Ripley explicitly sans proper underthings for the third movie in a row, I see. *deep sigh*
- I guess killing everyone from Aliens was an effective way to not have to deal with character continuity or casting conflicts, but man, that really undercuts the ending of that movie.
- What is a “double Y chromosome correctional facility,” anyway, and do I even want to know?
- Charles Dance is… distractingly young in this. Also I’m already assuming he’s evil, thanks, Game of Thrones.
- Oh nooooooooo did the facehugger get the dog? AM I GOING TO HAVE TO WATCH A DOG EXPLODE? Guys, I only BARELY survived the beginning of John Wick, I cannot HANDLE watching a good pupper get his chest busted open.
- So much attention on the girl when it’s obviously in the dog, IT’S IN THE DOG, RIPLEY.
- *pushes up glasses* From what I understand of what happens in the body following death, this autopsy scene is unrealistically bloody. She’s been on her back for so long that all the blood would’ve pooled at the bottom of her body, and would not be spurting out of her chest.
- “I don’t want a woman walking around giving them ideas.” This speech was very gross. I get that it’s not safe for Ripley to walk around among the prisoners and that she needs to be on her guard. But it could’ve been stated in a less “it’ll be your own fault if something happens to you” kind of way.
- OH NO HERE GOES THE DOG, HOW DARE YOU, FINCHER.
- Why is the xenomorph that came out of the dog so much bigger than the ones that came out of humans? Shouldn’t it have been smaller, initially, given the size of the dog’s torso?
- I’m… not loving how many times they’ve been bringing up how many of them are rapists. Or how many times they’ve referred to Ripley as a “temptation.” Ripley has survived two movies and has established herself as plenty strong without having to go through some sort of gauntlet of sexual trauma. I see no reason to change that now.
- This movie is already bloodier than the previous two movies combined.
- Not thrilled with the decision to give Ripley a love interest in this movie, and have her distracting men with her Feminine Wiles, when I feel like that would be the last thing on her mind after what she’s been through. Also Tywin Lannister seems a significant step down from Mr. “I Will Not Give That Order” that she was vibing with in the last movie, but I guess that’s just a matter of personal taste. (I get that he’s dead now, but still.)
- Awwww poor Bishop is in the GARBAGE. This is like that part in The Empire Strikes Back when C-3PO gets torn apart. Ripley needs a Chewie.
- Oh no, it’s happening, the sexual assault… in order to distinguish The Good Prisoner from The Bad Prisoners. Ugh. Okay, I get that this movie came out in 1992, but… I’m going to address it anyway. Putting aside the fact that a scene like this almost always overlooks the agency of the (main) female character, objectifying and dehumanizing her in service of the (supporting) male character’s arc — if the only way to differentiate your good guy from your bad guys is that your good guy is Not A Rapist, this is weak writing and it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Because being Not A Rapist is an incredibly low bar to set for a character we’re supposed to root for. All that him being Not A Rapist establishes is that he’s a step above the very worst of humanity, not that he’s particularly special. Show what the character is for, rather than just what he’s against, especially if the thing he’s against is something as morally heinous as rape. We should all be against rape. This should not be a defining, aspirational characteristic for anyone; it’s just a baseline for being a marginally decent human being.
- I’m going to predict that since that sexual assault scene existed entirely to enhance Dillon’s character, that Ripley is not going to experience any lingering trauma from it whatsoever. I’ll bet she goes through the rest of this movie as if it never happened. Because that scene was never about her; it was about the man who saved her. She served her purpose, now it’s time to move on. Blech.
- So. Much. Blood. Come to think of it, this lack of subtlety may actually be a lingering side effect of Fincher’s years of doing music videos.
- This is a minor nitpick, but how would Ripley know how to get Bishop working when she didn’t even seem to know androids existed until Ash, and never seemed all that interested in learning about their mechanics during the time she was with Bishop? Not that much time has passed for Ripley between the first movie and this one, and I just don’t see when she would have acquired these skills.
- I am Ripley’s complete befuddlement that there are no weapons at this prison.
- Welp, there goes Charles Dance. So much for the love interest.
- Oh, hey, it’s the promo shot. Huh, it… let her go? That seems out of character.
- So at this point in the movie, as the prisoners and custodians have to band together to try to ward off the aliens, I still only actually care about Ripley. Seems like a bad call to have killed Bishop and the soldier from Aliens right at the beginning, which would’ve given me more people to invest in. It feels like the movie wants me to throw support behind Not A Rapist, but, well… I’ve already expressed my feelings on that. He’s the most sympathetic of the surviving new characters, but still not enough for me to emotionally invest.
- I do like this whole “let’s make a trap out of whatever we have on hand” thing that’s happening here. Very A-Team. Or the air filter scene from Apollo 13.
- Well, on the up side… they have plenty of fire now.
- What is wrong with Ripley? It’s been too long since she woke up from cryosleep for her to have a xenomorph inside her, hasn’t it? HASN’T IT?
- Oh dang, she’s got one in her. How has it not erupted yet? Is it some sort of slow… mutant… version? I guess that means my “Ripley dies” theory is most likely correct.
- If Ripley doesn’t want a xenomorph to fall into the hands of The Company, why didn’t she ask them to call off the rescue team when she first realized there was an alien in the prison? I don’t see what having one inside her changes about that. They were already going to get their hands on a xenomorph. Couldn’t she just… hide?
- The Company is like a bad Tinder date with its repeated “AWAITING ACKNOWLEDGEMENT” texts (I have never used Tinder, but I gather that “I WOULD LIKE TO POSSESS YOU, ACKNOWLEDGE ME” is more or less what it’s like?)
- “You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.” I know it’s been 13 years for audiences, but it’s been like… a few weeks for Ripley? Few months? I didn’t get the impression that she’d been in her apartment for all that long in Aliens.
- What guarantee does she have that killing her will kill the alien inside her? Is there any precedent for this or is she just speculating? Is it because the xenomorph didn’t kill her in the infirmary, so she’s assuming it wants her alive?
- Wow, this is the first instance in one of these movies where the special effects have been truly terrible. That wide alien shot was… either awful ‘90s CGI or awful ‘90s compositing. Either way, very bad call to do full-body action shots of the alien. Better to stick to the sparse, practical close-ups than rush technology that is clearly not there yet.
- Did the xenomorph just… shoot a dart out of its second mouth? Is that a thing it does now?
- Oh hey, The Company’s here. Betcha a dollar they’re gonna start killing people.
- Being doused in molten lead is… not how I’d want to volunteer to die.
- HOW IS IT STILL ALIVE?
- Why… would it… have exploded… this… is not… how physics… works… (See also: how did it jump so high, lead is very heavy, molten or not.)
- BISHOP. ANOTHER BISHOP. Oh dang, HUMAN Bishop. I don’t trust Human!Bishop, I only trust Robot!Bishop. (It’s a weird place that I’ve gotten to with these movies.)
- She’s gonna jump in the lead, isn’t she.
- Aw, man, poor Mr. “I Have A Wife” died. He’d made it so far. But not before pretty much taking off the entire side of Human!Bishop’s face with that wrench. Which he barely appears to even feel, calling his “human” status into question (for me, anyway).
- Okay, she jumped into the furnace, not the lead (smart move, as I imagine the furnace would be quick while the lead would be excruciating), but the principle’s still the same. That shot was very Return of the King. And honestly, this whole “we’ll douse it in molten lead” plan is extremely similar to the way the dwarves try to take down Smaug with liquid gold in the Hobbit trilogy. Is… is Peter Jackson secretly a big Alien³ fan, I wonder?
- Nice touch, having the alien burst out of her chest right at the end so we’re absolutely SURE she had to die.
- And… it’s over. Is it just me or do all of these movies feel like they end kind of abruptly?
- P.S. As predicted, this movie never dealt with or even acknowledged any repercussions from Ripley’s assault.
That was most definitely not as strong as the first two installments. Not really bad, per se, but more just… not great. This one ventured into some problematic tropes that the previous two movies had managed to avoid, and also had some lazy character development, which meant I wasn’t invested in anyone but Ripley. Plus this was the first one with downright bad special effects (not throughout; the close-up practical effects were still great), which was kind of an epidemic in the ’90s.
I was right about Fincher leaning into the monstrousness of humans, although throwing in the “double-Y chromosome” thing — ie: that these men were genetically predisposed to be violent towards women (ew) — felt clunky, and focusing on prisoners seemed a little too on-the-nose. Not to say you can’t have a nuanced exploration of monstrosity and humanity in a prison movie — just look at The Shawshank Redemption — but this movie failed to give its prisoners any sort of real depth, and didn’t seem to really be saying anything about human nature, other than “some people are good and others are bad.”
It also had some heavy overtones of “some men just can’t help themselves” and “women should know better,” which was, to put it mildly, super gross. I can overlook a lot when watching movies from the ’80s and ’90s, but I was really disappointed to see this film take such a misogynistic stance after the previous two managed to avoid it. Really hope it was an anomaly and that future movies course correct.
I also was right about human villains being more important to the story here, with the threat of The Company feeling much more imminent, but they were still pretty removed from the main narrative. The dissent and danger among the prisoners was much more immediate, with their infighting providing most of the human conflict — I just wish it had been more interesting. It definitely feels as if Alien³ was the movie where Fincher was figuring out which themes he wanted to explore further, but he didn’t become successful in actually doing that until his later work.
Speaking of which, I was wrong on all of my predictions for deeper, reality-challenging, internal conflict. All of the conflict in this movie was fairly surface-level, and none of the characters except Ripley were ever explored in any meaningful way. It’s a shame, because there was a lot of potential in the prison-world concept. I feel like in different hands (or even the same hands, later in his career), this premise could’ve really delivered, and maybe even provided some poignant commentary on incarceration, rehabilitation, and the moral questions inherent in both redemption and condemnation. Too bad we’ll never know what that version of Alien³ would have looked like.
Still no main “villain,” per se, unless we’re counting Human!Bishop showing up at the end. Which I don’t, since they didn’t spend the movie fighting against him (although they were trying to outmaneuver The Company in general… but that’s still not enough for me to call him/them an actual villain). At this point, I’m beginning to doubt whether these movies will ever have a bona fide villain; perhaps The Company will always be content to remain lurking in the background, pulling strings, while the xenomorphs provide the bulk of the actual conflict. Which is fine, just not what I was expecting.
I was also right on Ripley dying (which also delivered the messy ending I was predicting), although I’m guessing that since the title of the next movie is Alien: Resurrection, that she’ll be coming back. I do, however, think I have to give up my hopes that the cat will ever become relevant. In a franchise where they were happy to kill a child, a dog, and the main character… I just don’t see the cat having much of a chance to shine. Alas.
Tune in next time for my inaugural viewing of 1997’s Alien: Resurrection, from the director of… Amélie?
Huh. This should be interesting.